The Presentation of Religion in popular West-African Video Films and their Impact on the Society

Seminar Paper, 2008

14 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. An overview: Nigerian and Ghanaian Religious Video-Films

3. Main Issues and Structures of Popular Religious Films

4. Main Religious Characters
4.1 Pastors
4.2 Traditional Religious Characters
4.2.1 Traditional Priests
4.2.2 Traditional Chiefs
4.2.3 Mami Water
4.3 Other Characters

5. The Perceptions of the Audience and of the Producers
5.1 The Audience
5.2 The Producers

6. Conclusion: The Film in the Context of African Societies


1. Introduction

Since the 1990’s West-African video films enjoy increasing popularity, especially those produced in Ghana and Nigeria. They are an important part of modern African popular culture and have often displaced Hollywood films. These films cover a wide spectrum of different genres. They range from comedy, romance and horror to religious films. Often the various genres are mixed but all of the films got something in common: They reflect the modern urban life in contemporary western Africa and are an account of the current process of social change in many societies (Larkin, 2008:172).

This paper mainly concentrates on religious films, especially those produced by charismatic Pentecostal Churches. The first part gives an overview of the history of Ghanaian and Nigerian films including a short analysis of their similarities and differences.

After that follows a chapter solely dedicated to Christian films. What are their basic structures and main issues? In chapter four the presentation of the most common characters will be discussed. It will be focussed on religious characters, but also the presentation of women and children in some contexts will be analysed.

Following to that the perception of popular religious video films in the West-African societies will be discussed. It will be tried to give some reasons to explain the popularity of these films.

Finally, the question will be answered, what impact these films could have on the society.

2. An overview: Nigerian and Ghanaian Religious Video-Films

In Ghana and Nigeria the development of the film-industry is very similar.

The film-industry has been controlled by the state for a long period of time. But the ongoing process of democratisation since the early 1990’s leads to a liberalization and commercialisation of media as TV, radio, press and also film (Meyer, 2005:277).

Also the easier access to modern technologies, like video-cameras, help the West-African film-industry along (Ukah, 2003:207).

Between Ghanaian and Nigerian films only exists a few differences. Nigerian films are more violent than Ghanaian films and emphasize the superior power of God. They are often produced with a higher budget and because of that better technically equipped. So they are able to involve a lot of computer-made special effects. Ghanaian films usually have a lower budget and are not able to go along with this new set standards. Additionally, they have to persuade the Ghanaian censorship board, whereas the Nigerian films can circumvent this institution (Meyer, 2007:97). Between the years 1987-1993 86 films were locally produced in Ghana[1], the Nigerian market is much bigger (Meyer, 2005:281). Nigerian movies adopt their material from other medial genres (like theatre and literature) but more and more they quote other films from the USA or Europe (Wendl, 2004:18). In Ghana most of the film-makers are from the milieu of the “Concert Parties”- mobile theatre-groups, who created musical-plays (Wendl, 2004:18).

How they present religion and religious leaders in these films I will now discuss in detail.

3. Main Issues and Structures of Popular Religious Films

The main topics and structure of popular religious films, which are locally produced in West Africa, are very similar, either if they are produced by a Pentecostal church or by an independent film-maker.

Nigerian films are often produced by Pentecostal churches (I will give an example of this phenomenon later). Influenced by the popularity of these films, film-makers adapt their style, irrespective of their own opinion (Meyer, 2007:97). The main theme in religious West-African films is a dualistic fight between good and evil forces. They foreground the conflict between God’s forces (explicitly the Pentecostal churches) and Devil’s in the affairs of human beings (Oha, 1997:93).

The coexistence of Christianity (or in some parts the Islam) and traditional world-views in Africa provides an arena for this spiritual battle (Sutherland-Addy, 2000:271). Traditional religion and figures connected to them are presented as the evil forces, whereby the Christian God is shown as superior over the traditional forces (Meyer 2007:96). A result of this dual image is the demonization of local religious traditions. It creates an explanation for human and social problems like poverty, diseases and hunger (Sutherland-Addy, 2000:93). These films reflect an ongoing process of social change in the Nigerian and Ghanaian societies. The rich and the poor draw more and more apart. The wealth of some parts of the population cannot be explained rationally, it is believed that this is gained through supernatural power[2] (Wendl, 2004:21). Based on that is the general structure of popular religious films.

Simplified the structure of the most films is like that: The protagonist contacts or is contacted by some evil powers, like traditional healers or witches. He seeks for money and wealth and to reach his aim somebody has to die[3]. The evil spirits (so in the most cases the traditional religious characters) seem to be successful. After some struggles and fights (with a lot of special effects) the fallen protagonist and his actions are detected by a born-again Christian or a strong believing Pentecostal pastor, who has the force to defeat the power of darkness. After this final countdown the superior power of Christianity is proofed. The spectator is shown that the Christian way of life is the only right choose. An alternative plot is the one of witchcraft-videos. The protagonist and his family are afflicted by some remarkable events. The father of the family looses his job, somebody gets seriously ill or even dies, the family gets suddenly poor and so on. It is clearly shown that the protagonist is a victim of witchcraft (often the witch is a near relative). Again, initially it seems that the evil power would be victorious. But then a member of the family discovers it and contacts a Pentecostal pastor, who is strong enough to fight against these evil powers. After a final battle, the pastor is victorious and the witches are destroyed[4]. These two possible plots are dumbed down to show the basic structure of popular religious video-films[5]. There exist certainly variations, but they normally are based on the portrayed ones.

After the depiction of the basic structure of these films, it should became clear, why traditional priests and leading figures complain that they are misrepresented in those films (Meyer, 2007:97). I will now analyse the role of the most common religious characters in popular video-films.

4. Main Religious Characters

4.1 Pastors

In Pentecostal Christianity the pastor stands in the centre of the church. They often claim to have the spirit of discernment given by the holy spirit. They turn these visions into divine revelations, so that it seems that they got authority (Meyer, 2005:282). The pastor presents himself as a true man of God with a divine vision. He has the charisma which enables him to see what usually remains in the dark.

This role-model is transferred into the video-films, the pastors in the films are often even played by real pastors, just like in the example given by Meyer (2005:284-287). He just plays the role that he also plays usually in church. In the interview he says: “It was great fun to cast out devils!” (Meyer, 2005:286). In general the pastor only appears at the end of the film, as the one who knows how to save the people in trouble. He, as a real man of God, can fight against the powers of darkness, where others failed. He is the redeemer, who persuades the ones, who are bewitched by evil spirits, to return to God and become born-again Christians again. Usually these skills are awarded to pastors too. They do exorcism in their churches. But Christian pastors also appear as a contrary example to the one above. These pastors are not shown as real men of God, they could be impressed by worldly goods like money. They represent the Pentecostal churches which do not serve God, but are motivated to gain money through their work. In certain films these pastors are criticized as false and dishonest (Meyer, 2005:284).


[1] Compare: Sutherland-Addy, Esi: „ A list of Ghanaian Feature Video Films, 1987-1993“. In: Anyidoho, Kofi and Gibbs James (edt.)(2000): “FonTomFrom. Contemporary Ghanaian Literature, Theatre and Film.”

[2] This phenomenon is called “Occult Economy”. Defined “als der Einsatz magischer Mittel für materielle Ziele oder, weitergefasst für die Erzeugung von Reichtümern durch mysteriöse Techniken, die mit konventionellen Begriffen weder erklärbar noch einsichtig sind, Techniken, die zudem auf der Zerstörung anderer beruhen und deren Fähigkeit, eigene Werte zu schaffen.“ (Wendl 2004:15-16).

[3] See for example: “Abaddon II” (1997, produced by Richard Quartey).

[4] See for example: “End of the Wicked” (1999, produced by Helen Ukpabio (who herself is the leader of a Pentecostal church in Nigeria).

[5] I just tried to sum up the films I saw and the film-descriptions I read to extract the basic structure (compare for example: Aveh 2000:283-300. Wendl 2004 :18-20. Meyer 2005:284-287).

Excerpt out of 14 pages


The Presentation of Religion in popular West-African Video Films and their Impact on the Society
University of Bayreuth
Religion and Media in selected West-African Countries
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
407 KB
Ghana, Nigeria, Pentecostal Churches, Horrorfilms
Quote paper
Neele Siebers (Author), 2008, The Presentation of Religion in popular West-African Video Films and their Impact on the Society, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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